It's no secret that Killeen has a reputation for being "scruffy."
Whether it's fair or not, that label was given to the community in a 2004 Washington Post article — and to some degree, it has stuck.
The description has caused many residents and community leaders to chafe over the years.
Now, with Maj. Nidal Hasan's court-martial looming next month at Fort Hood, and the community expecting a crush of national media representatives, Killeen's mayor and chamber of commerce are calling for a beautification effort.
The chamber also is developing a strategy to provide positive news about the community, including its growth alongside Fort Hood and strong relationship with military families, during what is expected to be a two-month trial.
In conjunction with these efforts, Killeen City Manager Glenn Morrison has proposed an initiative called Killeen Up!, a play on words for a program that will encourage residents to promote beautification as well as good citizenship.
Killeen Up! will be more than a suggestion, however. It will feature a new, stronger emphasis on code enforcement, with potentially sizeable fines for violations such as tall grass and dilapidated fences.
For his part, Mayor Dan Corbin says he first advocated a citywide beautification project when he was on the city council nine years ago.
Since that time, Killeen has drawn widespread media attention — as a military community experiencing continual deployments during the Iraq War and in the aftermath of the tragic on-post shootings of Nov. 5, 2009, for which Hasan will soon stand trial.
Now, city officials are looking to put the community's best face forward — and that's not a bad idea, whatever the motivation. But Killeen didn't receive a reputation for scruffiness solely based on overgrown yards or littered streets — though those problems are no doubt contributing factors.
Several areas of the city are older, run down and in need of more than a manicure.
Thoroughfares bordering the downtown area, such as West Rancier Avenue and West Veterans Memorial Boulevard, are lined with closely spaced businesses, little greenery and are framed by overhead power lines.
Other areas of town feature tightly packed duplexes and fourplexes with little off-street parking and suffer from a lack of green space.
And with the city center's abundance of car lots, pawn shops, tattoo parlors and fast food joints, it's not hard to see where some out-of-town media might form some negative impressions.
Still, Killeen has a lot to be proud of, and visiting media need to be made aware of those attributes.
The community has a bustling, state-of-the-art regional airport; a newly opened campus of Texas A&M University-Central Texas and a quality junior college; an impressive conference center; two highly regarded hospitals (if you count Seton right next door); and a school district with more than 50 campuses and 40,000 students.
But perhaps Killeen's greatest asset is its people. Over the past decade, Killeen's residents have supported Fort Hood's soldiers and their families as few other communities have. Repeatedly, service members have returned from overseas to comment on how great the community had been to them and their loved ones during their deployment.
And commanding officers who have served on Army posts around the world are quick to note that the Fort Hood community is unrivaled when it comes to backing the military.
This is the face of the community that the national media need to see — one that the chamber will no doubt do its best to present.
As far as the city itself is concerned, a full-scale beautification project is long overdue. Whatever the reason for initiating one now, it's a welcome development. But to be effective, the effort must be sustained over a period of years.
And it must be more than skin deep.
City leaders must continue the downtown revitalization project that is now under way.
But more importantly, they must move toward zoning ordinances that mandate larger lots and deeper setbacks, and place a greater emphasis on parks and green space buffer zones.
Otherwise, the "scruffy" label is liable to stick a little longer.